Sunday, May 8, 2016

Journalistic Malpractice: A Few Observations About the School Board Elections

Day after day after day, leading up to Tuesday’s school board election, articles in the Buffalo News predicted an Armageddon if certain candidates were not re-elected or elected to the Board.  The headlines screamed warnings about the untenable and catastrophic consequences that would result from the seismic shift of power, if majority bloc members were not re-elected.   They bemoaned the use of the fairly common tactic of challenging an opponent’s petitions as endemic of the “hard-ball, bare-knuckle Buffalo politics” that had infected the electoral process, even though this maneuver was used by their preferred candidate in his first race three years ago.  They conveniently ignored the fact that Mr. Sampson successfully removed Mr. Hernandez from the ballot in 2013 or that Mr. Paladino attempted to knock Mr. Harig off the ballot this year. 

Using vague or few facts to substantiate their recommendations, they endorsed little-known, un- accomplished candidates over seasoned incumbents whose records they tried to trash.   Ironically, they attributed incremental academic successes, e.g. the increase in the graduate rates, to Board President James Sampson and North District Representative, Jason McCarthy.  In doing so, they contradicted their own assessment of the significance of this progress indicator.  They previously downplayed this accomplishment as this is an outcome of Dr. Pamela Brown’s Superintendency.   In this regard, they are consistent, however, in that they’ve never attributed credit to Dr. Brown for this achievement or acknowledged the fact that the schools which were removed from receivership earlier this year also made progress under Dr. Brown’s tenure.

Employing a documented propaganda strategy, the News purposefully published multiple daily articles in various formats, supporting their message of impending doom and gloom.   They lamented the demise of the majority bloc’s “reform” agenda and mused about the chaos the District would experience if the “status quo”, “union supported” minority succeeded in winning a position as the new majority.  One can almost picture the handwringing and hear the moaning of the editorial writers as they penned their fear-mongering opinion pieces. They touted the union’s support of some candidates as tantamount to that group taking control of the District.  Yet, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s bankrolling of the incumbent majority members and at least one challenger was framed as the business community fulfilling its civic responsibility.

The Buffalo News’ unprecedented coverage of the School Board, the candidates, and the issues (as they determined them) was intended to sway public opinion during an election season that had few public forums or other opportunities to meet the candidates.  In the end, voters saw through the ruse and refused to be influenced by irresponsible, biased journalism.  Rejecting the News’ arguments, they cast their ballots for the children.  The new Board-elect is comprised of new and returning Board members, who are united in an agenda that aims to re-focus the Board on the broad educational needs of all children in the District. 

I began writing this column two years ago because a) the Buffalo News marginalized and often demonized the minority women on the Board and Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and b) the 2014 “Vision Statement” advanced by the majority board members was exclusionary, divisive and proposed a “reform” agenda that threatened to “dismantle” our public schools.  Throughout this period I’ve often asked the question when is enough, enough?  Obviously, many of you have answered that question with your vote and the response is, NOW!  I believe that this Board will move forward, collaboratively and cohesively to develop a new vision, one that’s inclusive and puts the children in the beginning, the middle and the end of our agenda.

Barely a week has passed since the election.  And the new Board won’t take office until July 1st.  Yet I anticipate more propaganda from the News.   I urge readers to watch the Buffalo News reports.  Will they be fair and balanced?   If they’re not, call them on it!  We cannot be silent and allow journalistic malpractice to continue and to undermine the new Board before we even convene.

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